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The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

How poker chips sparked Marquette to its 87-69 comeback win over Western Kentucky

Marquette men’s basketball celebrates in its 87-69 win over Western Kentucky. (Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics.)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Marquette men’s basketball skulked back into the locker room after a sloppy first half in its NCAA Tournament opener against Western Kentucky.

The Golden Eagles were trailing by seven points, 43-36, and the high-tempo Hilltoppers finished the opening 20 minutes on an extended 22-5 run.

Shaka Smart knew he needed to do something to get his team out of its 39.4% shooting rut, so he did what any head coach would — he reached for his pot of poker chips.

It’s a new initiative Smart — who likes to use props to convey important messages — started for the tournament.

“So we created a poker chip for every one of the meaningful experiences that we have had over the course of this season, and we have them all together,” Smart said Thursday in a media availability.

Every game from the season is a chip. On the front is the game, its score and Marquette’s opponent. On the back is something meaningful to the game, whether it be what someone said in a huddle, the team’s theme for the game or an important moment.

“For example, last Thursday we had to beat Villanova twice,” Smart said. “We thought we had the game won in regulation, but we didn’t. So then we had to go win again. So on the back of that chip, it said, ‘won the game twice.’

“Those are valuable experiences, chips that our guys have in their pocket, that hopefully we can draw on to play well this week in Indy.”

Before Friday’s 87-69 win over Western Kentucky, every player put all their chips into a big pot to signify the team “pouring into each other.”

So when his team needed to remember who they were, it only made sense for Smart to grab the pot and jog their memory about what they’ve gone through and what they’re capable of.

“Halftime comes and we’re down a little bit and he’s (Smart) just trying to fire us up, bring us back out saying, ‘We put our chips in, we’re all in, let’s go after it,'” senior guard Tyler Kolek said.

“So we come in at halftime we’re down seven and we have that experience to go out there and be able to do what we have to do to take the game.”

The Golden Eagles sparked their way out of the locker room with a second-chance layup from Stevie Mitchell, and pieced together a 12-5 run to retake the lead, 50-48.

“We’ve been down 10 at half before on the road. This happened to us multiple times,” senior forward Oso Ighodaro said. “So just having that in the back of our mind and not panicking, staying who we are, knowing that we can still win this game. It goes a long way.”

For the players, seeing the physical pot of chips come out helped them steer the course Friday and book their ticket to the Round of 32, where they will face Colorado.

It serves as a reminder of everything the team has accomplished, and more importantly, what they can continue to do.

“Obviously, these games right now, they’re do or die,” sophomore forward Ben Gold said. “So looking back on all the games we’ve had, we can look at how we did in those games and the themes that we can carry over for every other game.

“And then on top of that, it’s always good to remember those good games that the team had, and we can reflect on them because you probably wouldn’t really be reflecting on them as much [without the chips].”

The chips aren’t why Marquette is dancing. But it’s what helped keep the party music going into the second round.

This article was written by Jack Albright. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter/X @JackAlbrightMU.

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About the Contributor
Jack Albright, Executive Sports Editor
Jack Albright is a sophomore from Charlton, Massachusetts studying journalism. He is the Executive Sports Editor of the Marquette Wire for the 2023-24 school year. In his free time, Jack likes to hang out with friends and watch Formula 1. He is excited to write fun stories about all things Marquette athletics and oversee new types of digital content.

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    Elizabeth AllenMar 22, 2024 at 7:20 pm

    Great job all season in covering this team. I always turn to the MU Wire for good context, quotes and great ledes.